Mysterious man of the cloth, Tchami, has shot to acclaim this year, working for Pete Tong and Thump and remixing work by AlunaGeorge, A Tribe Called Quest, and Janet Jackson. Defying genre and oozing Parisian swag, this DJ/producer coolest dude in a dog collar since Brendan Gleeson’s turn in Calvary. Tchami plays Ambar next Friday, September 19. ZOE KILBOURN talks to Tchami before he plays Ambar.
Tchami’s one of those deliberately elusive, slightly elitist house producers who elevate the subtlety and weird timbral possibilities of the genre to high art. In priestly garb, pseudonymous, he’s a difficult man to pin down, even musically. His inspiration, “Beyond any genre and randomly,” comes from the likes of “Tom Yorke, DJ Premier, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Neil Young, Jacques Brel.”
“Let’s make it clear,” he says. “A year ago I tagged my first tracks as ‘future house’ just for fun. People made it up to what it is right now. You can download ‘future house’ sound banks. That’s the power of internet.”
His musical process, then, doesn’t come from genre expectations. “It’s totally empirical. If my ear is ringing it’s going to make it in a mix. I’m always looking for soul in music.”
Pseudonymity is clearly an important part of Tchami’s creative process. Aside from throwaway line in a Wikipedia article about the name’s origins in Africa, there’s no word anywhere about Tchami’s real or assumed name. He deflects a question about its origin (and the country in which it was bestowed upon him): “In my case, it’s a personal thing. But I believe that you could choose any name if you make good music people would accept it anyway.
“All I would like to say is travelling is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself. It makes you see things from a wider perspective. In Africa I heard a lot of traditional music. That’s what I was looking for. I still have to go back to explore the electronic music scene. I love the South African vibe right now.”
His attraction to the traditional and esoteric is present in the kalimba stylings of a track like Untrue – as well as an interest in untranslatability and foreign language.
“I wanted to make a song that had a vocal melody but no understandable words in it,” Tchami says. “Like an universal language that anyone could feel and sing. Untrue didn’t reach any top chart and wasn’t number one, and I’m ok with that fact. My satisfaction comes from the song itself and by the way that people are reacting when I play it. It is the most personal record I’ve put out so far.”
His first Confessions mix features a wry snippet from what sounds like an American neo-noir film: “Your problem is that you have spent your whole life listening to shit and thinking that it’s good. It’s sad, but it’s not your fault.” Turns out, “It was part of Quentin Dupieux’s great movie Wrong Cops. You may also know him as Mr Oizo. I truly recommend this movie.” (Rotten Tomatoes begs to differ, although most critics agree the film is very hip.)
Tchami has a knack for finding soulful vocal samples, working with Kaleem Taylor on his Promesses EP (which also features bona fide banger, Shot Caller). As you might expect, though, Tchami is a (mostly) lone wolf.
“Most of the time I work alone. It’s the best way to stay in my zone and do my thing, but I like to be with other creative people in a studio. Those are not the times when work really gets done, but it’s really refreshing.”
FRIDAY, SEPTMBER 19